When it comes to food, in general, I ain’t shy about the fact that I’m all for the porn of it.
That’s right, I said it. Go ahead, you gluttonous human black holes you: objectify your appetite and your excess, and assemble all the many crime scene photographs of your gut-busting should-know-better conquests of shame and decadence as a front line in your Instagram gallery army. I ain’t particular about that shit.
When it comes to food junkie delicacies and my own predilections, however, I am strictly a pizza man. STRICTLY. Like devout. Like orthodox. Like a self-proclaimed, self-identified, self-certified fucking pizza specialist. Can you dig it? I mean, yo, I think it’s cute-n-all that you wanna have debate over what’s better, NYC slice v. Chitown deep dish pie, but, sorry, pleb, I’ve transcended those petty Buzzfeed-style pop discourses when it comes to pizza. When it comes to pizza, I rap about the gift of Naples as a philosophical fucking concept.
But in an attempt to become better versed in the craft of trash food pleasantries, this year I decide to turn the focus of my obsessions on another behemoth of America’s proverbial “cultural fat kid” — THE BURGER.
Therefore, culling from the 2018 edition of Eater LA’s comprehensive 21 Essential Los Angeles Burgers, I — joined by my partner-in-burger, SM — will eat, notate, and rate each burger on this list compiled in the very commuter limbo traffic-laden GoogleMap hellscape where the item itself was invented — nee NECESSITATED — over the course of a post series entitled: YEAR OF THE BURGER.
Bon appetite, motherfuckers. Stay tuned.
CASSELL’S HAMBURGERS 3600 West 6th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90020
So this is the first stop on our list, here, and in my opinion, the list could just stop here. I mean, shit, one grease-drenched, cheese-covered, doublestack meat sammiches from this joint and my Year of the Burger is already off to the artery-clogging start I expected. Admittedly, though, Cassel’s gonna get granted a little bit of a leg-up as such here. I’ll make it no secret that, as self-styled burger connoisseur, I tend to favor simple, diner-style smash steakburgers over the farm-raised gourmet fork-and-knife bourgeurs that have risen up recently to represent the “new era” of burger eatery.
Cassell’s Hamburgers was established in 1948 and now occupies the lower level of the historic Hotel Normandie, where it operates 7am to 11pm daily, and til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. Cassell’s has a storied legacy in Los Angeles — a city that prides itself on hanging onto establishments unchanged for decades — first as a burger stand and then as a restaurant that dwindled in popularity until it finally closed in 2012. It reopened as part of the neighborhood’s revitalization project and is now on prominent display at this busy corner on the topside of K-Town.
Parking in that neighborhood at night, no matter what day of the week, is a bitch. The epitome of what parking in LA is at its worst — pushing already borderline metro area drivers, circling the block again and again and again until, at the teetering brink of insanity, they wedge the car up on a curb and toss the keys in the gutter. Best bet, IMO, whether they have their shit together or not (because when I went, THEY DID NOT) is to leave your car with the valets of the Hotel Normandie. It’s worth the five dollars so that you don’t road rage so hard you split in two and give up on your own life.
Inside, the diner will be bustling, probably, because, though it’s possessed still of some of its old-world charm, has become another typical 21st Century burn-and-turn. Staff are clipped and direct, but its because they’re busy not because they’re dicks. My partner-in-burger, SM, had already grabbed a table by the window by the time I got there, so we settled in and started the night off with a couple beers and an order of fries.
When it comes to the main event, you have your choice between a A) hamburger or B) cheeseburger or C) some vegetarian bullshit, with further options of patty size, as well as a number of add-ons, such as “sauce.” The burger comes presented on metal cafeteria trays, with tomato, lettuce, onion, and pickle as basic trimmings. I ordered a cheeseburger, DOUBLE, one-third pound, and I ordered it WELL DONE, and you can all say what you will about me, America, I ain’t embarrassed that I like my meat cooked.
For my money, this burger came exactly how I like them. It was smothered in American cheese, which did not eclipse the taste of the burger, the meat of which maintained the perfect greasy zest that makes diner steakburgers so goddamn good. It came on a traditional Parker House hamburger bun, so, y’know, none of this fancy-ass highfalutin’ brioche crap that’s become so indicative of the “$20 BURGER” phenomenon, that it’s just become a fucking bun. I dressed the burger to my liking with regular ketchup and mustard and some of those pickles. I finished all two-thirds of a pound of beef and cheese with LITTLE TO NO GASTROINTESTINAL INCIDENT.
Our server seemed, at first, a little on the bitter side, but once we made it clear that we were working through Eater LA’s list of LA’s Best Burgers, he blossomed like a flower. It turned out that he wasn’t all about the gig, he is all about burgers. He maintains an Instagram page devoted to a cheeseburger-a-day journey.
Follow @chasing_cheeseburgers, although I have to warn you, he’s “pretty into patty melts right now.”
Partner-in-burger, SM, who’s a Los Angeles native, grew up on Apple Pan, which we’re getting to, so he favors that taste and experience in particular. Cassel’s ended up on the fair end of our “out-of-10” burger rating scale, but nothing special. He didn’t particularly care for the fries, which is a cornerstone for a burger experience for him, and which I admit, were, in this case, a little lackluster. He gave Cassell’s 6/10.
In Cassell’s defense, however, when Al Cassell first opened, he didn’t make fries. In fact, he flat out refused to, and he served homemade potato salad instead. In any case, for me, this was a great burger experience. Although I’m increasingly excited that this was the inaugural outing for my Year of the Burger, it’ll be tough to wade through 20 more hamburgers before I can come back to this boss bitch for round two. — 9/10
THE OINKSTER 2005 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90041
Here we are. Number two on the list. A little the fatter for wear, but, as it happens, have a spot on the east side, near where I live, which, honestly, gives it points on the upfront with a one-two punch of being A) easy to get to, and B) easy to get home from, when, invariably, I’ll have sufficiently stuffed myself with enough red meat and beer to shame myself into hiding from public view. The sammiches available at this joint are easily categorized as “build-a-burgers,” one-half a metric that partner-in-buger, SM, and I have established for scoring. To me, these are the burgers I tend to prefer — diner-style smashburgers worthy of instant onset cardiac arrest.
As a beginning note, now that two burgers are finally up on the leaderboard: when SM and I first decided to go on this foodie adventure, I thought I’d be throwing up 10/10s willy-nilly, like the Katy Perry on American Idol of foodporn review blogs. Truth be told, I’m enamored with burgers, and I possess no real rubric or acumen to write critically about food, so the resolution was that I was probably just going to love ALL THE BEEF. But, sorry not sorry, discerning tastes are forming, burger babies, and this is now where we start to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Or the ground from the sirloin, if you will.
The Oinkster took up occupancy over ten years ago in the former site of a Jim’s Burgers on Eagle Rock’s Colorado Blvd, where it operates Sunday thru Thursday, 11am to 10pm, with an additional hour of operation on Fridays and Saturdays. The retro signage, the A-frame storefront, the proclaimed menu of “slow fast food,” and its significance in the Los Angeles burger festival scene have made it a metropolitan culinary staple.
Right off the tri-tip, this is what I love about the east side: parking is a fucking cinch. Now, SM had a particularly bullshit week, so we were planning on pounding some beers. Since Eagle Rock is close to Los Feliz, as I was saying before, we just hopped a ten minute Lyft ride from my house. If you’re driving, though, the location has a modest parking lot, but unregulated street parking in this hood won’t set you back but a couple trips around the block.
Inside, The Oinkster is counter ordering, so, depending on what time of day you decide to hit it, you’ll probably encounter a line. Use this time to contemplate the gut-buster-of-a-menu, or an array of well-chosen craft brews on draught. The staff is super-friendly, and help make the whole experience a total no-rush. Get your number, find a seat, and prep your lower GI for the oncoming stress test. Since SM and I are on this kick to knock out every burger joint on Eater’s updated 2018 list of LA’s best, ordering a couple of The Oinkster’s famed house specials, The Royale, was unavoidable.
I mean, look at this motherfucking Satan’s cheat day right here. Because The Oinkster specializes in house-cured pastrami — and do a toight sammich of the ilk — the little piggies apparently couldn’t justify a signature burger without their signature meat, so this unholiest of joinings is thusly both burger and pastrami sandwich at once, and, in case you wanted to put off an annual physical for another couple years, IT’S GOT FUCKING CHILI TOO.
My honest hot-take, though? THE ROYALE IS *NOT MY JAM*. Let me say, I really enjoyed the experience of going to The Oinkster. Like I said, it’s a super chill joint in a throwback spot with a dope staff, and the surrounding hood is popping. Also, the tap beer selection is absolutely ace and the fries are great, but this beast-of-a-burger, The Royale, was just too much. The components of it are prepared to all exceptional standards, but, like, so are the components of a Colt .45 but I don’t want to eat that, either. No, this burger is like a Real Housewives marathon. It’s like more than one Domino’s Pizza coupon code on a single order. It’s me trying to fit in with my 7th grade flag football team.
JUST. TOO. MUCH.
My distinct burger fascination notwithstanding, currently holding the majority stokehold in my ambition for 2018, I’ve always loved burgers. Who doesn’t love burgers? Burgers are so wantable, even vegans got scientists up in a lab trying to suss out how to make a burger they can eat. But, man, I just feel bad for The Royale. It’s trying so hard. I just want to say, “Be a burger,” and then hug it and hug it and hug it until we go full Good Will Hunting, and it’s like, I’M OK YOU’RE OK WE’RE OK LET’S EAT.
Partner-in-burger, SM, was also not a fan of The Royale, but, like I said, he’d had a tough week, so maybe his tastebuds were informed by mood. In any case, I think The Royale ends up on the leaner side of both our “out-of-10” rating scales, which is surprising for a dish that serves up with so much fucking meat. He gave it 4/10.
The Oinkster is a perfect local joint, theoretically. And as I further explore the unobtrusive fabulousness that is Eagle Rock, I won’t say I’d never wander back through the A-frame for a beer and to wrestle with one of their famed pastrami sandwiches. But also, like Jules in Pulp Fiction, this brush with death has shaken my countenance, so gimme my wallet and I’ll be on my way. — 6/10